Every social worker makes mistakes. I’ve been told that when we are new social workers it takes a while to figure out where we went wrong and as we gain experience and wisdom the time between making a mistake – and knowing we made a mistake becomes shorter. However, it doesn’t mean we stop making mistakes. I encourage you to embrace your mistakes! Growth as a professional comes from learning from the times we struggle. To help you know what to look for here are some of the common mistakes many of us make.
Working harder than the client
Social Workers usually have a strong work ethic. I have to tell the team I supervise to take time off and not to work during that time off. Social Workers spend a lot of time with people and need personal time to recharge. If you are working harder than the client, workers will find they start to resent the client. Social Workers meet the client where they are at but it is the client’s choice what they do moving forward. Clients have their own ideas of how they want to live their life and it might not match your agenda. Remember it is the client’s life and they can live it the way they want and that might mean not engaging in services or not doing what seems to be best for them.
Learning and maintaining appropriate boundaries is a must. It is a balancing act to learn what to share and what not to share. There are many books written on boundaries which shows you how complicated a simple word can be. You are assisting your clients with meeting their needs. Self-disclosure may be a way to connect and bond with a client but it also can cause problems. I like to talk and I’ve learned to ask myself “what is the purpose for sharing this information. Is this about me or them and if it isn’t 100 percent about them it is not something to disclose. You have a specific role and purpose in your relationship and it is not to be friends. You can like and care for your clients and have a friendly relationship but be aware of the lines. Keeping good boundaries includes dressing appropriately and acting professionally.
Underestimating the value of listening and validating
One of my workers said tome recently that a client told him that she appreciated how much he cared and how much he has helped her. My worker was baffled because he didn’t believe he had done that much for the client. However, in the client’s view, he had done a lot. He had listened to her story. He validated her feelings. Sometimes our clients are in really tough spots and there really isn’t a lot we can do to help change the situation except listen. Being heard and validated can change someone’s life.
Not seeking supervision
No matter how much education and experience a social worker has, mistakes will be made. There is just no way to know everything there is to know about people and there will be situations that arise that aren’t anticipated. There will also be situations and cases that will trigger some feelings in you. These are the times that it is vital to ask for help. When you have a supervisor, they are there to help you work out the problems. A supervisor can help you figure out how to respond to ethical dilemmas and how to manage normal tasks. Even if you are in a situation where you are independently licensed and don’t have a supervisor you do have peers. Find someone or a group with whom you can consult. I attend a monthly consultation group to ensure I am receiving feedback from other colleagues. There is no reason to be out there all on your own.
Don’t be afraid of your mistakes. Recognize them. Learn from them. Grow from them.